Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolutions: Getting a Better Mix

This is the time when everyone seems to be making plans and promises to do all the things they've been meaning to do and to stop all the things they've been meaning to stop. I'm sure that most of us in the church technical arts, particularly in the realm of audio, have a few New Year's resolutions of our own. At the top of many lists, including mine, is improving the mix. There always seems to be that elusive "perfect mix" where everything is tight and clear and in its place. If you're anything like me there are days when you walk away from a show and are just not quite satisfied with the end product. Well, here are a few things that I'm going to do this year to sharpen my skills

Listen carefully and analytically to a recording of the song(s) before rehearsal. Even if its a song you've done a hundred times, it never hurts to revisit a recording and listen carefully for the feel, how the instrumentation fits together, how the vocals blend, and maybe even where the solos are. If its a new song, then this exercise is indispensable. As I tell my volunteers, if you don't know what your aiming for, you won't know when you get there.

Experiment with new techniques. If there is a technique, feature, or effect you've never tried before, then try it out. If it doesn't work then fine, at least you know. But don't get stuck in a mixing rut. Try new routing, compressions, effects, panning, EQ, or even new snapshot uses (or scenes depending on your console). Personally, I'm going to experiment more with using the stereo plane to its fullest and work on tailoring vocals. Check out www.churchtecharts.org for some good tips on working in stereo.

Keep the big picture in mind. View the mix with the broad perspective of the audience. The average person doesn't walk away from a show humming the kick drum. (I must credit the great Robert Scovill with that one.) The point is, don't get bogged down in the intricacies of the individual instruments and loose sight of how the overall mix sounds. The bass may sound superb but if the people can't understand the vocals or are blown away by the lead guitar, no one will care. Focus more on EQing instruments and vocals to fit together well instead of EQing them to sound great by themselves. Check out this site for a helpful instrument frequency chart.

Lots of things can change in a year. I hope that my mix changes for the better by the time 2012 arrives, and I hope your's does too. It will just take a little bit of intentional effort.